How the Lakers defended James Harden

Even though the Lakers lost, they were able to mix things up against reigning MVP James Harden, which could come in handy down the line

Getting lost in the shuffle of the brawl that took place this past Saturday, was how the Los Angeles Lakers tried to reigning defender MVP, James Harden. The Lakers moved away from the “ Switch everything “ method that most teams seem to be deploying these days, and gave Harden a few different looks.

Although Harden did end up with 36 points, give Coach Luke Walton credit for mixing things up in an attempt to through the Houston Rockets off. If the Lakers can recover from their sluggish start and make their way into the playoffs and meet the Rockets, it doesn’t hurt to have different schemes on tape for the Rockets to consider when game planning.

Two things happened on the defensive end:

1. Instead of switching every pick and roll, which Houston ran 17.6% of the time last season, the Lakers would drop the defender who’s man is setting the screen back, while at the same time having Harden’s defender trail him over the screen. This would force Harden towards the defender dropped back, and with his man trailing, would make it very difficult for Harden to get off a clean look for three.

2. While not all that uncommon, another scheme the Lakers tried out was having one man hang around as ” Free Safety,” which means he was less interested in what his defender was doing, and more interested in what moves Harden was planning on making.

The Lakers would do this but using whichever defender was guarding the,e least dangerous offensive weapon for the Rockets. This has the potential to give up open shots to Rockets role players, but that is the point, the Lakers would rather P.J. Tucker drop 30 on wide open shots than Harden get hot and go off for 50 by continuously beating his defender off the dribble.

Here we see Brandon Ingram trailing Harden off the screen, with JaVale McGee staying back. This gives Harden a ” Wall ” that he has to go through to get to the basket. Harden is good enough to beat this play consistently, but if he is working harder than usual to get there, it is worth it. One way or another he is going to get his shots up, you want him to work.

Here is another example of McGee dropping back, and Rajon Rondo trailing Harden over the screen. If you look at the right block, we can also see Lebron James nowhere near his man, mostly filling in that ” Free Safety ” role as extra help. 

A third example of McGee dropping back to provide a wall, with Lebron paying no mind to his defender Tucker.

This example is on an isolation play, with Brandon Ingram crowding Harden forcing him to his weak hand, which is also where most of his help is. Notice Lebron all but in the paint ready to help, leaving Tucker all alone. Rondo is providing an extra hand by turning his focus more towards Harden, and less towards his man James Ennis. Because Chris Paul is such a threat, Kentaviouis Caldwell-Pope is not helping off as much as the other Lakers. 


While the Lakers were unable to get the win in Lebron’s home debut, and most of the game was overshadowed by the fight that took place towards the end. The Lakers at the very least gave Houston something to think about the next time they play, and hopefully if they meet in the playoffs, Houston as several schemes to review that the Lakers tried out during the regular season in an attempt to corral Harden.

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